The Spirit of Frida Kahlo Descends on Catalina

Vibrant images snapped by Kahlo’s confidant and lover are on show in a new Catalina Island Museum exhibition



Long before Andy Warhol’s repetitive silkscreen self-portraits and the ubiquity of digital cameras, Frida Kahlo famously painted autorretratos depicting herself adorned in colorful Tehuana dresses as she sat ensconced amid Aztec artifacts in the interiors of her family home, La Casa Azul. She captivated a host of artists and intellectuals, including Hungarian lensman Nickolas Muray, whose portraits and prints of Kahlo from 1937 to 1946 comprise a striking new exhibition, “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray,” on view through Sept. 27, at the Catalina Island Museum.


FRIDA KAHLO, pink/green blouse, Coyoacán, 1938. Photo by Nickolas Muray.


Kahlo, with whom Muray had a 10-year affair and multidecade friendship, is the most photographed subject in the Vanity Fair, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar photographer’s vast archive, and the 50-image exhibition also includes pages of correspondence and intimate letters sent between the two artists.


“You can feel the sensuality and the electric connection between Kahlo and Muray in these images”



“Muray was a master at his art and clearly understood the importance of color, lighting and composition,” says Julie Perlin Lee, the museum’s executive director, who points out that he invented new printing processes to make bright hues and details pop. Kahlo, herself a master of color, layered gold jewelry with coral, donned intricately embroidered scarves and wove colorful silk flowers through her hair for his images.


FRIDA KAHLO on white bench, New York, 1939. FRIDA KAHLO with magenta rabozo, New York, 1939. Both photos by Nickolas Muray.


The portraits show the strength of Kahlo’s gaze, the precision of her defining eyebrows and her confidence, and even capture her off duty on a cigarette break. Lee notes, “You can feel the sensuality and the electric connection between Kahlo and Muray in these images.” She adds, “Whether in the studio or outside, or whether in color or black and white, Muray’s photographs make Kahlo glow.”




June 20-Sept 27. Catalina Island Museum, 217 Metropole Ave., Avalon, 310-510-4650.


Feature image: FRIDA KAHLO with her pet eagle, Coyoacán, 1939. Photo by Nickolas Muray.


June 19, 2020

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